Monthly Archives: July 2013

On the Record

Over the past few months, our cellphone use has been bouncing around, which required changing our plan several times. On one month we had to raise our minutes from 700 to 2000 (we were a thousand miles from home, planning an unexpected funeral at the time).

My CellCo had started to make “mistakes” in their billing process — I use quotes because the “mistakes” were always in their favor. They also started to “forget” promises that they had made to us a month before. When my latest bill arrived, they had forgotten to apply a credit that they had promised a month before  — at the time, they said it was “too late in the billing cycle”. Yeah, right.

Fortunately, I had recorded the call when said promises were made. When I played the relevant part of the call back, the rep got really angry.

  • First he told me that I wasn’t permitted to record the call. I replied that I was; when Verizon said “this call may be monitored or recorded for Customer Service purposes”, it did not say by whom, and I interpreted the statement, quite reasonably, as permission.
  • Then he tried to say that it was illegal to record calls if the person you were calling was unaware. I said that that was not the case — it was legal in most states (including mine), as long as at least one party (me) was aware that it was being recorded. He disagreed. I told him that he was welcome to check with the legal department — or with Google.
  • Finally, he said that CSRs don’t like being recorded and would hang up if they were told that they were. I replied that I would make it a point not to upset them by telling them. I also said that had I not recorded the call, I would not have had a leg to stand on; a point he could not refute.

He applied the “promised” credit, and we parted amicably — at least I would like to think so; I guess I’ll find out next time I call Customer Service.

What do you think? Was I out of order? Was I breaking any law? Was he right to get angry with me?

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Real Racing… RUINED

As a follow-up to my review of Real Racing 3, I was putting together a hints-and-tips article, called “Real Racing Revisited”. Sadly, before I could complete it, an updated version of the game came out… and they changed a bunch of stuff. The update – called the “Prestige” update, contained the following changes:

  • Two new carmakers: Bentley and Mercedes-Benz
  • A new Race Type – “Time Trials”
  • Lots of changes to the UI
  • Lots of changes to game mechanics.

The first and most obvious change is that the main screen has been redesigned; frankly I am not impressed. The developers have gone for eye candy at the expense of usability. For instance, it was possible to see six events on screen at once, Now you are lucky if you can see three. There is a lot more scrolling involved, and the scrolling is “damped” — before, you could go from top to bottom with a flick of a finger; That no longer works. The soul-patch-sporting graphic designers have been at work; events are brighter and bolder, but it is more difficult to read the names of the cars.

Main screen

Before

front new

After

Also, the car manufacturers have been re-ordered on the new cars screen; before they were in alphabetical order, now they appear to be ordered mundane to exotic, with Chevrolet and Nissan at the beginning and Pagani and McLaren at the end.

Time Mistrials

Personally I think that the “Time Trials” idea was a bad one, or more specifically a bad execution of a good idea. The problem is that with a time trial, there is no real winner or loser – it’s just about best lap times for a given car on a given track. That’s not to say that time trials are a bad idea or do not belong in this game, it’s just that they are not really “races”.

Each series now has additional races — one time trial for each vehicle. This means that most series now have up to four additional races. The bad news is that the events that you had previously completed are now only 89% complete. The good news is that once you have completed the (four) time trials for that event, you get another completion bonus. The weird news in all this is that you have to complete all races in first place to complete the series… EXCEPT the time trials… all you have to do is complete ’em.

In my opinion, TIme Trials are a wasted effort. Here’s what they should have done instead:

  • Practice Laps: Pick a car, pick a circuit and you get three laps with the track to yourself. It would be ok for the developers to charge you one Gold to do this.
  • Qualifying Laps: Before a race, you should have the ability to do up to three laps of the track to determine your position on the grid. This is how it’s done in real life. Again, they could charge you a Gold for this privilege.

Not as “Real” as it used to be

Perhaps the most annoying new feature is the concept of “drive points”. Each time trial uses one drive point, and they take time to “grow back” at a rate of one point every fifteen minutes. You start off with a limit of only two, and it costs two gold pieces to refill this bank, which is not unreasonable. What *is* unreasonable is that extending this limit is VERY expensive — at fifty gold, it is the price of a brand-new Corvette ZR-1. This seems like a cynical way to try to squeeze some money out of gamers.

drivepoints

Fifty gold? ARE YOU MAD?

Performance Rating

They also introduced the concept of “performance rating”, or “PR”, a numeric “benchmark” of a car’s performance. Upgrading your car raises its PR. This is a good thing. They then made PR a requirement for certain races — which means that you have to upgrade the car to the required PR whether you want to upgrade or not. This is a bad thing.

Penalty Box

Another new “feature” is the introduction of Off-Track Penalties. If any of your wheels strays from the track, you are charged a penalty, as well as the loss of speed from going off-track. You are also penalized if another car shunts you or runs into the back of you, neither of which could possibly be your fault.

Real Repairs, unreal Maintenance

Repairs and maintenance are now handled differently. Each race has an added “Clean Race Bonus”, and repairs are subtracted from this, which is not a bad thing; repairs are relatively cheap, and don’t cause any delays. However, in my opinion, the latest release has broken the Maintenance system.

In the previous version, maintenance was broken into categories; oil, engine, suspension, brakes and tyres — that “decayed” at different rates. Some high-performance cars needed an oil change after every race, but engines didn’t needed rebuilding so often. This was a close reflection of real-world racing vehicles. That approach has been abandoned in favor of a single green/orange/red scale.

maintenance old

Real Maintenance

newmaint2

not so real

This “all-or-nothing” approach is not only unrealistic, but represents an unnecessary “dumbing-down” of one of the features of the game that separated it from the competition. No more excitement trying one more race with iffy brakes or shaky suspension; no more putting off that oil change for one more race. One other casualty of the “all-or-nothing” approach is that a full maintenance cycle now takes hours instead of the three minutes for an oil change.

Locked Out

Previously, you could enter any series that you wished. If you didn’t already own a car racing in that series, you could jump in and buy one. This is no longer the case; many of the higher series are locked until you complete earlier series. This is irritating, but it is realistic; one cannot simply jump into a Formula One car and drive in the Monaco Grand Prix, you have to earn that right.

What is both irritating and realistic is that certain cars are locked, even if you have the money. This is not realistic – in the real world, you can buy whatever you can afford.

Another change is that the prize money has been reduced. This has irritated a lot of people. Here is an example ; my main “Money Race” is the “Road Car International” Grand Final race, a 12-to-14-minute five-lapper at the Suzuka Grand Prix circuit. Under version 1.1.2, the first-place payout is R$20700, before repairs and maintenance. Under the new version, the payout is a measly R$10250 on day one, plus a R$2135 “Clean Race” bonus.

But the new version also boasts a “Daily Race Bonus”. GREAT! Or is it? Let’s take a look, shall we?

Payout Daily Race Bonus Clean Race Bonus Total (1.2) Total (1.1.2)
Day 1: 10250 20% 2135 12385 20700
Day 2: 11135 30% 2135 13270 20700
Day 3: 11950 40% 2135 14085 20700
Day 4: 12800 50% 2135 14935 20700
Day 5: 17050 100% 2135 19185 20700
73860 103500

So under 1.2, your five-race payout goes from R$103500 to R$73860. And to add insult to injury, even after working your way up to the top-level bonus, you still earn R$1515 less per race. Thanks, but no thanks.

Real Failure

Summing up the changes, there is no doubt in my mind that the general intention here is to make you spend more money and earn less, presumably so that you can go running to the store to buy more R$.

Unlike many, I am actually a fan of the “freemium” model — where the game is free to download and play, and the developer makes money off the in-app-purchases (IAPs). I also like the idea of taxing the well-heeled and the impatient. I actually spent a few dollars on the game — I don’t actually need the money, but I like to support developers who make good products, and this is a beautifully-crafted game. But the fact is that they are asking too much money for IAPs: the cheapest package of R$  costs $2, which will buy you next to nothing; if you wanted to buy the most expensive car in the game, be prepared to shell out more than $50, which is waaay too much money to spend on a game. One idea would be to offer a “double-your-money for $10”, which would encourage gamers to actually do some work.

I believe that they would make far more more money if they aimed for $5 from the typical gamer, with $10 or $20 for the top-end ones. This is one of those situations where being too greedy can result in making less money. Asking for more than $50 in real-world money for one car is just ridiculous.

The bottom line is that the latest version (1.2) is really not worth upgrading to from 1.1.2; very little is new, and when you add in the reductions in prize money, the decreased realism and the lower up the negatives, they outweigh the positives. Before you upgrade, I recommend that you backup your APK, and also backup your profile, (which is at <storage>/Android/data/com.ea.games.r3_na/doc). This way you can roll back the app without losing all your money and cars. This directory contains all your progress and is removed if you uninstall the game, all of your progress is lost. I did not know this, and it cost me R$1.5 million and nineteen cars. I have started again, and this time I am learning from my mistakes.

The Good

  • New Cars!
  • Daily Race Bonus!
  • Clean Race Bonus!
  • Automagic Repairs!
  • Nicer Car Animation!

The Bad

  • Lower Payouts make it harder to compete without IAPs
  • Massively downgraded Maintenance model
  • Locked Events REQUIRE you to complete other events.
  • “Upgrade” makes it impossible to return to previous version without manually saving data or losing all progress
  • Drive Points: What the heck were they thinking?

The Ugly

  • Locked Cars that REQUIRE you to purchase unnecessary events
  • Brain-Dead “Performance Rating” (PR) system that REQUIRES you to upgrade a car whether you need to or not.
  • Longer Wait TImes
  • Prices in general are way too high. More than $50 to purchase one car? Give me a break…
  • Unfair Off-track penalties.

EA, you made a big mistake. One that will cost you.

Mind the Store

It would not be entirely unfair to paint me as an Android fanboy. But the word is loaded with negative connotations — perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am a fan of open standards.

While I like Apple products, their “we-know-best” attitude sometimes leaves me less than enthused. This is perhaps the reason that I have been sporting an Android-based phone for over two years — first a Motorola Droid X2, then a Samsung Galaxy S3, both through Verizon, (damn them, but that’s another story).

Over those two years I have probably spent over $100 in the Android Market, now known as the “Play Store”, much to my annoyance (the earlier name was far more apt, in my opinion). I love the ecosystem that allows a programmer to create something, sell it for a a dollar or two and still make a fortune.

There are, however, three glaring flaws in the Play Store that I have encountered — besides the name, of course — that need to be addressed:

1: You cannot mix credits and cash.

I recently received a credit from a developer as a “Thank-you” for helping to test their game. I was purchasing a $2.99 game and had $2.79 of that credit left. The obvious thing to do would be to use up the credit and charge the remainder to my card… but that is apparently too much to ask – the Play Store’s payment system does not allow “split-payment” purchases.

Mind The Store - Copy

2: A fifteen-minute refund window is way too short.

A play store purchase may be refunded within fifteen minutes. This makes sense for a quick-download, short-attention-span game like Quell or Cut the Rope, where a quarter of an hour is ample time to ensure that the program works properly on your device, but this is not the case for some “big” games that use a stub program to download gigabytes of data before the game can be played. By the time the download is complete, the refund windows is long gone. Solution: Let the developer decide on the length of the refund window.

Two hours later

More than two hours after purchasing the game and it *still* hasn’t finished loading…

3: You can no longer set an individual app to auto-update.

This used to be possible, but with recent updates to the play store, the only option is the global one, which is NOT what I want. Interestingly, the option is still there on my Nexus 7 tablet, but has disappeared from my phone.